Claiming "action is needed without delay," the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is ordering four Paramount metal processing facilities to reduce emissions of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium. The move apparently comes before regional air regulators have issued any citations against the plants. At least two of the firms dispute the county's findings.
"Based on recent evaluations of hexavalent chromium [also known as chromium 6] documented by [the South Coast Air Quality Management District's] extensive monitoring network, Public Health has determined action is needed without delay to protect the health of the Paramount community," Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county's interim health officer, said in a statement.
The health department issued public health directives last Friday to four facilities: Carlton Forge Works, Press Forge, Weber Metals and Mattco. The directives say AQMD monitoring data show the facilities emitted elevated levels of chromium 6 last month and that they must work with the air district to correct the problem, "which may include partial or full suspension of operations."
Carlton Forge Works General Manager Luis Liu said in a statement that the directive "contained inaccurate information that does not correspond with existing monitoring data." The firm "disagrees with the assertions in the letter" and has sent Gunzenhauser "a detailed account of the inaccuracies," said Liu.
Robert Ortiz, general manager of Press Forge, issued a statement claiming that Public Health's letter "inappropriately identifies Press Forge as a significant contributor to the elevated hexavalent chromium levels in southern Paramount." He said his company sent Gunzenhauser a letter "that outlines the errors in the underlying assumptions made by the County."
Queen Uchekwe, an environmental engineer with Weber Metals, said the company "wants to cooperate with the LA Department of Public Health," but says it has not had prior dealings with the agency and, "its letter did not attach any information supporting its assertions."
She says Weber Metals, "wants to meet with the Department to better understand its concerns."
Mattco did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the past, the health department has waited to issue such a directive until after the air district has cited a facility.
But in these cases, "there was really no reason for us to wait and I didn't want to wait," says County Supervisor Janice Hahn. "I wanted to get in as soon as possible and let these companies know that they were behaving badly and we expected them to change course in what they were doing as soon as possible."
AQMD "has the capability to come down with the hardest hammer," she says, but "the Department of Public Health and the County of Los Angeles are responsible for people's public health and this is a public health risk."
The AQMD is closed on Mondays, so officials were unavailable for immediate comment.
The health department issued the directives amid growing concern that metal processing facilities across the region are emitting unsafe levels of the carcinogen.
Last fall, the AQMD identified two Paramount metal processors that it said were emitting too much chromium 6. In the course of that investigation, the air district discovered that certain metal processes can emit the carcinogen. This knowledge spurred the agency to broaden its effort into a wider, regional initiative.
It began monitoring for chromium 6 near metal processing facilities in Compton in June. In late July, AQMD cited another metal plant in north Long Beach for elevated chromium 6 emissions.
The AQMD previously cited Carlton Forge for allegedly emitting foul odors.
Chromium 6 has been associated with lung cancer when inhaled over long periods of time, typically years to decades, according to the AQMD.
This story has been updated to include a response from Weber Metals.